Nothing beats free food. Especially when you’ve traveled a long way and have just arrived at your destination. Whether they’re sitting in a jar, on display in a plastic case, or nestled in a warming drawer, it’s hard to think of anything sweeter for a hotel to offer than a free welcome cookie. But when did these saccharine amenities become a thing—and who did it first?
The DoubleTree hotel chain. While there’s no industry-wide consensus on precisely when select hotels began offering cookies, DoubleTree was the first to turn free cookies into a major part of its public image when, in 1986, it chose one recipe to use across all its hotels. The cookie gambit was a branding decision to help them stand out, as the hotel chain was still small back then, with fewer than 25 locations in Arizona and California.
The DoubleTree cookie recipe is a chocolate chip cookie—the brainchild of a few DoubleTree chefs working with hotel management. Now the cookies are baked fresh onsite daily from frozen dough using the original recipe. Originally, guests received two cookies in a box in their room, but now they get one bigger cookie at check-in. Every DoubleTree is required to have a warming drawer at the front desk for when guests arrive. But it’s not uncommon for some guests, especially the younger ones, to come back down from the rooms and ask for another.
Of course, DoubleTree isn’t the only hotel offering a sugary pick-me-up to weary travelers. Country Inns & Suites by Carlson began offering free cookies in 1987. (Theirs are also made from frozen dough, sourced from Otis Spunkmeyer and baked onsite.) If you stay at certain Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express locations, you could be greeted with cookies during peak check-in hours. Their hotels have a little more leeway to choose their own brand, as long as it’s nationally recognized like Mrs. Fields or Otis Spunkmeyer—but like all the others, the cookies are baked fresh onsite and always complimentary. And at some Kimpton hotels, guests can enjoy small treats, such as shortbread biscuits, along with a small pour of a nighttime libation, before they head up to their room.
Correction, Aug. 26, 2015: This post originally misspelled Country Inns & Suites by Carlson.
Explainer thanks Lindsey Daniels and John Greenleaf of DoubleTree by Hilton; Staci Graber of Carlson Hotels; Aurelia Vasquez with Hyatt Hotels; and Jordan Worrall with Holiday Inn; and Ashley Wallace with Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.
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